LOS ANGELES, December 1, 2016 — Late November is a time to eat turkey, give thanks, shop till we drop at the mall or online, and celebrate the death of Fidel Castro and the return of McRib. Late December brings more holidays. Early December brings football, and only football. This is where we separate contenders from pretenders. We find out if a high octane offense can penetrate a vicious defense. The race for the NFL MVP heats up, and the worst teams try to keep their coaches from becoming Black Monday casualties after the season. Drew Brees and Tom Brady refuse to give in to Father Time, while Dak Prescott and Carson Wentz try to bring a changing of the guard.
The Cardinals, Panthers and Packers are on the ropes, while the Raiders, Chiefs and Broncos are prepared to battle to the last minute of the regular season and beyond. The Cleveland Browns have the week off from losing, while the 49ers and Bears play a game that dishonors their championship teams of the 1980s.
Storylines abound, but in the end, it comes down to the trenches. The Cowboys have an offensive line that may one day compare to their 1990s Great Wall of Dallas. The Patriots saw their offensive line melt down the stretch last year, but are healthy this year.
Football does not require hyperbole. It is football. So let’s get to it. Here is the NFL 2016 Week 13 Preview and Bettor’s Guide, with point spreads provided by FootballLocks.com and all times Eastern.
Thursday, December 1, 2016, 8:30 p.m.
Dallas Cowboys (-3.5) at Minnesota Vikings — The 5-0 Minnesota start is a long distant memory for the Vikings, who have lost five of six games since then. Dallas has won ten straight, but if there is one defense that can slow down their offense, it is this one. Mike Zimmer has a desperate team fighting for playoff survival in prime time. Upset special, Vikings win.
Sunday, December 4, 1:00 p.m.
Denver Broncos (-5) at Jacksonville Jaguars — Despite losing two straight games, Denver is far better than the horrendous Jaguars. Blake Bortles will throw touchdown passes, but one of them may be to the Denver defense. Broncos cover.
Kansas City Chiefs at Atlanta Falcons (-3.5) — The Chiefs win with suffocating defense and a West Coast Offense that works best with a lead. The Chiefs lack the firepower to mount a comeback against the high octane Atlanta offense if they fall behind. Falcons win but fail to cover.
Houston Texans at Green Bay Packers (-6.5) — Aaron Rodgers is a top tier quarterback. Brock Osweiler is not. Houston looked awful last week at home while Green Bay, despite being 5-6, looked very impressive last week. Green Bay is is still alive to win the NFC North, and they are a better team on both sides of the ball than Houston. Packers cover.
Philadelphia Eagles (-1) at Cincinnati Bengals — Both of these teams are under .500 and expected to miss the playoffs. At home, give the Bengals a chance with Andy Dalton and his receivers. Upset special, Bengals win outright.
Detroit Lions at New Orleans Saints (-5.5) — Last week the Saints racked up 49 points against a very good defense, but this week they face another very good offense. The Lions at 7-4 lead the NFC North, but in a shootout with Matthew Stafford and Drew Brees, give the win to whoever has the ball last. At home, go with Brees. Saints win but fail to cover.
San Francisco 49ers at Chicago Bears (-1.5) – In the 1980s, these teams met twice in the NFC Title Game. Now they are fighting for the right to be the worst team in the league if Cleveland wins a game. It is hard to trust a team that has lost ten straight, but Colin Kaepernick has played less than terrible the last couple of week. The Bears are not even sure who their quarterback is. Upset special, 49ers win.
Los Angeles Rams at New England Patriots (-13.5) — Jeff Fisher is accused of being overrated, but he is actually underrated. However, Bill Belichick has a quarterback playing like a demon possessed. The Rams defense gave up 49 points last week. The spread is high, but a few years ago Belichick’s Patriots led Fisher’s former team 59-0 after three quarters. Belichick sat everyone in the fourth quarter to prevent further humiliation. Patriots cover.
Miami Dolphins at Baltimore Ravens (-3.5) — Miami has won six straight, but Baltimore has a pretty stout defense. Miami rarely generates enough offense to be exciting, and Baltimore can still win the AFC North. This game will be ugly, which means close. Ravens win but fail to cover.
Buffalo Bills at Oakland Raiders (-3) — The Raiders have been winning games in cardiac fashion. They have the offense led by Derek Carr. Buffalo has Rex Ryan’s defense, which is not intimidated by hostile road crowds. Defensive coordinator Rob Ryan used to have that job with the Raiders.The Bills are fighting for playoff survival while the Raiders want to show they can win against a good defense and stay atop the AFC West. The Raiders may struggle, but in the fourth quarter trust Carr. Raiders cover.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers at San Diego Chargers (-3.5) — The Buccaneers looked like the 2002 Pewter Power squad last week in shutting down Seattle, but now they are on the road against Philip Rivers’s offense. The Chargers gave underachieved all year, but at home they look to make their typical late season surge. Chargers cover.
Washington Redskins at Arizona Cardinals (-2.5) — Washington is a surprising 6-4 while Arizona is a more surprising 4-6. This is Arizona’s last chance to save their season, and for one week, they will. Cardinals cover.
New York Giants at Pittsburgh Steelers (-6) — Despite the Giants being 8-3 and the Steelers 6-5, Pittsburgh may be the better team. At the very least, they are more balanced. Eli Manning and Ben Roethlisberger still have gas left in the tank, so the difference will be below LeVeon Bell. At home, expect Mike Tomlin to run the ball early and often. Steelers cover.
Carolina Panthers at Seattle Seahawks (-6.5) — The rematch of last year’s NFC Divisional Playoff has lost some luster. Seattle, despite a bump in the road last week, is still an elite team at 7-3. Carolina lost a heartbreaker last week and fell to 4-7. The Seahawks will get their revenge and end Carolina’s hopes. Seahawks win but fail to cover.
Monday, December 5, 8:30 p.m.
Indianapolis Colts (-1) at New York Jets — The Colts have Andrew Luck and little else, which is still more than the Jets have. They are a mess, and now have nothing to play for. The Colts have everything to play for, and they will play like it. Colts cover.